Author Archives: mike.merchant

Cleaning insect poop off trees

Never estimate how low this blog can go in the search for article ideas. After listening to some internet chatter today on the subject of cleaning black mold off of trees, I thought someone else might be interested in the dark side of insect poop. Feel free to close your browser now if I was wrong. Before anything else, let’s clear the air about insect poop.  Most insect poop is inconsequential, harmless and rarely noticed by the home gardener. The exception might be those caterpillars that leave poop… Read More →

Avoiding the “I-Got-the-Hotel-Bed-Bug Blues”

As the holiday season approaches and travel volume increases, the chance for traveler  encounters with blood-sucking bed bugs goes up. And while waking up with bed bugs in a hotel room is bad, waking up at home and finding that you’ve brought bed bugs home is even worse.  Bed bugs are one of the few insects that are adept at hitchhiking in personal belongings, so knowing how to minimize the risk of bringing unwanted guests home is an essential skill for the frequent traveler. Fortunately it’s relatively easy… Read More →

Where has West Nile virus gone?

If it seems you’re hearing less about West Nile virus (WNV) this summer, you are not imagining it.  Although mosquitoes have been abundant this year, for some reason the virus has remained relatively quiet in 2019. Where has WNV gone? A paper written by epidemiologist Dr. Wendy Chung and colleagues in 2013 may offer some insights on the absence of the virus this summer. Those of us who lived in Dallas in 2012 may remember that summer as the worst human outbreak of WNV ever.  Nearly 400 cases were… Read More →

Texas/Oklahoma Pollinator Project

This summer Texas A&M AgriLife is conducting a citizen science project to document the preferred host plants of Texas & Oklahoma pollinators. In the process some energetic volunteers and I will be learning a lot more about how to plant a successful pollinator garden. Last week I presented information about pollinators and how the project works to volunteers in the Dallas area.  If you are signed up as a volunteer, but missed the training, an edited version of the training is available here https://youtu.be/JfSpwlYcM3s  This training should prepare… Read More →

Firefly Month (or it should be)

Flickering lights, like so many Tinkerbells, dancing across lawns are one of the special memories of growing up in the South. This time of year is your best chance to see fireflies, so this week I thought I would give a shout-out to Ben Pfeiffer, a firefly lover who has devoted himself to learning about the fireflies of Texas. Ben has built an entertaining website, called Firefly.org. In it you can learn about the different kinds of fireflies (each has a unique flash pattern), where they live and… Read More →

Multiplying millipedes

At first glance, millipedes are most remarkable for their ability to walk without tripping over their own feet.  The name millipede literally means “thousand feet” and though most don’t have that many legs, that’s still a lot of feet to keep track of. What’s even more remarkable about millipedes, once you get to know them, is their ability to reach astronomical numbers when weather conditions are prime. That’s what’s happening right now, at least in parts of north and east Texas.  For the past month Extension offices have… Read More →

Sunshine and wildflowers–its mosquito time again

Two weekends ago my wife and I went for a long bike ride. It was one of those rare, completely beautiful spring days, cool air and wildflowers lining the roads.  I knew it was going to be a long ride, and I knew the Texas sun was shining; but somehow the need for sunscreen never entered my mind (my wife had the good sense to lather up). It was a wonderful ride; but I’m still paying the price today, with the skin on my arms peeling like an… Read More →

Dr. Don R. Read

The next best thing to being great, it’s been said, is walking next to someone great. I am grateful to have had the chance to meet and get to know the late Dr. Don R. Read, who passed away on March 21, 2019. He was one of our local colorectal surgeons in Dallas, and a great man in many ways. Dr. Read made his (unfortunate) acquaintance with entomology in 2005 when he was bitten by a mosquito infected with the west Nile virus. He told his story of… Read More →

Avoid bringing bed bugs home

The fear of picking up bed bugs in a hotel room shouldn’t keep you from that next great adventure you’ve been planning.  Yes, frequent travelers do have a good chance of eventually encountering bed bugs; but a few simple steps can dramatically reduce your risk of bringing these pesky insects home. To learn more, check out this new video, produced by my colleague Dr. Pat Porter, that explains what you can do to avoid the curse of the bed bug.  And enjoy that next vacation to New York… Read More →

Bug bombs bomb

For many years the go-to solution for DIY pest control was the bug bomb.  Got fleas? Get yourself a bug bomb.  Cockroaches in the kitchen?  Bug bomb! Most recently, it’s bed bugs.  See a bed bug? Reach for the bug bomb. But do bug bombs (also known as total release aerosols) really work?  Not very well according to a recent paper was published last month in the Open Access journal BMC Public Health.  Researchers at North Carolina State University found that not only did bug bombs under-perform (not even… Read More →